Swag – Information Post

One thing that I have been thinking about for awhile is Swag. While I was at IBF there was a panel put on by H.D. Smith about Swag.

For those who don’t know Swag is, it is the free things that you see at tables or during panels. Authors and publishers typically purchase these things for both already existing readers and non readers. When you think about swag, you normally think of postcards, book marks, business cards, and pens. There is much more than that though.

Authors I think feel pressured to provide swag for their audiences because it is something that most people do. This post will have some tricks and tips on what works, what doesn’t, and what I personally would love to see more of.

What doesn’t work:

I was helping an author to search for and purchase swag for an upcoming book signing. I contacted this company that specializes in swag type products and the first thing he said to me was “postcards and bookmarks are perfect” and I actually stopped him and told him, “no, they will just throw it away.”

Sadly that is the truth, there is nothing wrong if you do not have the resources to purchase higher end swag and still want to get your name out there. I would suggest book marks above postcard or business card sized products. After a conference, Melanie and I will compile our swag and go through it, dividing it into four piles; Melanie’s stuff, My Stuff, giveaway, and trash. Some of the stuff I get during the convention I get for her because I know that she will like it, and vice versa.

Most of the things that go into our stuff piles is actual items, be it shot glasses, fans, mouse pads, etc. Most of the things that go into the giveaway pile are free books, items that we either got three of or didn’t want. The stuff that almost exclusively go into the trash pile are business cards without either free books or other information. Postcard sized cards, and page sized cards are also almost always thrown away. Now this isn’t an absolute as we do both keep some, but usually within the second or third time we go through our swag we throw the paper stuff away. It just isn’t useful and there is nothing that screams, “remember meeting this author” like other things can do.

What can work:

Bookmarks are hit and miss. I actually have a book mark that I got three years ago that I still have. Why? It is signed, it is awesome, and it immediately makes me remember the author. I mean it isn’t like I can forget her because we talk once in awhile, but if she didn’t I can look at it and be like “she was cool, I wonder if she has any other books out.”


I also use bookmarks for every book I read and I keep them in the books so I know that I have read the book or not. This probably isn’t needed by everyone, but when I look at my bookcase to just grab something, I don’t always immediately remember if I read it or not. I try to get a bookmark from the author of the book, but if

What does work:

Pretty much everything else works well. I have seen everything from pens, to book bags, to home made soap and food. Personally I would suggest having swag that relates to your books. An example would be these book marks.  The feather bookmark had beads and a small replica of the book. Over time the beads fell off, but the feather is still there.


Pens are great, they are usually cheap and are useful because people will thrown them into a purse or a bag and use them. Whenever I use a pen that has writing on it, I will read it.  Pens are also one item that can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it and there are hundreds if not thousands of different styles.  If you have the money I would suggest pens that twist to open and close versus the click style. One reason is that if I have a click style in my purse it will without fail click open and then I have pen marks all over the inside.  I do not suggest caps. Caps get lost, ink dries, and pen is thrown away.

If you have the time, homemade items create a lot of attention and people tend to like it. I have a coaster that was handmade by a romance author. It has a corset on it, and is super useful and memorable. Soaps, lipgloss, even food items are all things that I have seen homemade. Readers love them usually.

One thing of caution that I actually had never thought of until a recent convention regarding lip gloss.  While popular, if you are not handmaking it and know where the product is coming from, I would hesitate in buying online. I am cautious as to what I put on my lips, especially since a lot of lip gloss comes from China, and I would rather not risk infection.

Everything and anything is swag.


There are two ways to do swag

At a table and during the panel.


Panel swag is usually items given out directly after a panel is over. Each audiance member recieves a ticket. Some of this swag are books or large book oriented gift bags. For example one prize that I won was a flask, beer coozy, and towel that all had dark and related to the author’s book. The coozy had a cat face, the flask was a skeleton, and the towel also had skeletons on it. You can also have smaller swag for people to pick up at the end of the panel.

Table swag can range from pens to book marks to gifts with purchase or anything really. I know one author that if you buy all three of the books one of their sets then you get a necklace that is something from the books. Another author that I met made little soaps that are a symbol from their book. One of the cutest lately are little zombie rubber duckies because their books have zombies. If you plan on making something handmade, make sure that you attach a business card or a sticker that reminds the person where it came from. Like the rubber duckies, when I look at it, there is a sticker with the author’s name on it. This goes back to me checking to see if they have anything new they published.

If you have a little money, and you want to have something, one thing I have seen is a small booklet with a short story, or the first chapter of all your books. With KDP the cheapest under 130 pages is around 2.50. This especially works if you write in different genres as a reader may have only read your work in one genre and this booklet will expose them to the other books.


Special Swag for people:

One other thing to keep in mind is if you have a street team, or beta readers/arc readers who you know will be at conventions. Some authors bring something special for these readers, and some don’t.  That is up to you and don’t feel that you have to go one way or another.


Return on Investment:

There isn’t a fast and sure way to see if your swag gains you readers or revenue.  The only way to do that is if your swag has a unique code. A website dashboard shows tracking data. What this means you use a specific link and only put it on swag. Then when you look at your website activity it will show how many people visited you. This is broken down to certain websites/codes and what they did on your website.

On one of my author friend’s pages, you can see how many people came from facebook links, google links, or swag links.  Then you can actually trace what pages they go to. Not all people want that detailed of information. Few have data analysts in their circle who can spend the time to see if one type of swag had a higher percentage of end purchases than another.



Most authors don’t have money when they first start out, and swag can be very expensive. I would suggest you have something, even if it is small candies with your book cover on them. Everyone likes something free and people will come to your table. Bring them in with swag and hook them with your story and you. Swag may not sell your books, but you will.

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